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04/08/2021 10:00

Researchers at Jacobs University examine children’s trust in social robots

Melisa Berktas Corporate Communications & Public Relations
Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH

    They are not intended to replace teachers, but to support them – for example, through personalized learning tasks tailored to the needs of each individual child. Social robots that communicate, interact, and build relationships with humans are increasingly being tested in school education, but what factors influence whether children actually trust these robots as teachers? That is what researchers at Jacobs University and at Uppsala University investigated in a joint meta-analysis.

    "As the role of robots in education becomes a reality, we need to better understand how these machines can improve their teaching, how they are perceived by the children, and how children relate to them," said Professor Arvid Kappas, Dean and psychology professor at Jacobs University.

    To contribute to a better understanding of this future-oriented issue, he and Rebecca Stower, research associate at Jacobs University, worked together with Natalia Calvo-Barajas and Professor Ginevra Castellano from Uppsala University in Sweden. They conducted a joint meta-analysis on children's trust in social robots.

    A meta-analysis systematically evaluates existing scientific research on a given topic. The researchers examined 414 studies published on trust in child-robot-interaction so far. A distinction was made between two types of trust: On the one hand, social trust in the robot as a kind of friend with whom an emotional bond is established. And on the other, trust in the robot’s competencies: Can the robot successfully complete the tasks assigned to it?

    Furthermore, they investigated the effects of the robot's design and its social behaviors on trust formation. Most of the robots studied resemble humans, utilizing gaze cues or imitating gestures and speech. Consideration was also given to how errors made by the robot are perceived and if they have repercussions on the trust relationship.

    "Our meta-analysis shows that the assumption that robots should resemble humans as much as possible is not necessarily true," Stower explained. "Robots are robots; more human-like attributes can actually lead to lower confidence in the robot’s competence." The development of future robots should therefore focus less on how to design a perfect robot, but rather on how it can best perform the attributed task. "Robots make mistakes, sometimes their voice recognition fails or they fall over. My observation is that children are actually very tolerant of robots making mistakes," said Stower, who is in the final year of her PhD at Jacobs University in which she is researching children's trust in social robots.

    The meta-analysis was funded as part of the European Union-funded research program "ANIMATAS," which promotes intuitive human-machine interaction with human-like social skills for school education. Jacobs University is the only German university to be part of the international consortium of researchers.

    About Jacobs University Bremen:
    Studying in an international community. Obtaining a qualification to work on responsible tasks in a digitized and globalized society. Learning, researching and teaching across academic disciplines and countries. Strengthening people and markets with innovative solutions and advanced training programs. This is what Jacobs University Bremen stands for. Established as a private, English-medium campus university in Germany in 2001, it is continuously achieving top results in national and international university rankings. Its more than 1,500 students come from more than 110 countries with around 80% having relocated to Germany for their studies. Jacobs University’s research projects are funded by the German Research Foundation or the EU Research and Innovation program as well as by globally leading companies.
    For more information:
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    Contact for scientific information:

    Rebecca Stower
    Research Associate, PhD Student
    Tel: +49 421 200-3405

    Original publication:

    Criteria of this press release:
    Business and commerce, Journalists, Scientists and scholars, Students, Teachers and pupils, all interested persons
    Information technology, Psychology, Teaching / education
    transregional, national
    Miscellaneous scientific news/publications, Research projects


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